23Sep2022

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Category: OP-EDs and Columns

OP-EDs and Columns

Implications of India’s Agnipath Scheme for Recruitment of Soldiers for Nepal’s Gurkhas

SANTOSH Sharma Poudel

The column originally appeared in The Diplomat on 14 September 2022. Please read the original article here.

On June 14, India announced the Agnipath Scheme, a new model for recruitment into the Indian military. Under the scheme around 46,000 youth between 17.5 and 21 years of age will be recruited for service for a period of four years. A quarter of these recruits will be retained at the end of this period, while the rest will receive a severance package of approximately $15,000 and return to civilian life.

The goal of the Agnipath scheme is to make the Indian military “leaner, fitter and more youthful.” It is expected to cut ballooning salary payments and pension costs, which could be used to modernize the military. Despite countrywide protests India has moved ahead to recruit under the new scheme.

Upon announcing the scheme, the Indian Army wrote to Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seeking approval to recruit Nepali nationals under the new plan. India’s Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that there would be no exception for Nepali Gurkhas.

Recruitment under the Agnipath scheme was to start on August 25 in Butwal and September 1 in Dharan in Nepal. However, the Nepali government halted recruitment.

Impressed by the valor displayed by Nepali Gurkha soldiers in the Anglo-Nepal War, the British East India Company started recruiting Nepali soldiers into a Gurkha regiment in 1815. Upon Indian independence, India, Nepal, and the British government signed a tripartite agreement whereby India would continue to recruit Gurkhas from Nepal.

Under the agreement, the countries would form exclusive Gurkha regiments, and recruits will be eligible for pensions. Currently, 34,000 Nepalis serve in the Indian Army, and 122,000 pensioners reside in Nepal. Cumulatively, they bring in $620 million (compared to Nepal’s defense budget of $420 million).

The recruitment of Nepali nationals in the Indian Army (and the British Army) is a contentious issue in Nepal. Some are opposed to it. Stopping the recruitment of Nepali soldiers in foreign militaries was one of the 40 demands raised by the Nepali Maoists when they started their 10-year armed insurgency. Even as recently as 2020, the Nepali government under Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli termed the 1947 tripartite agreement “redundant” and officially proposed its review, which the U.K. government declined.

Nepali nationals are raising several questions relating to the Agnipath scheme.

First, the scheme sidesteps the 1947 tripartite agreement. Although New Delhi has not rescinded the agreement per se it has been consistently stretching its understanding of the pact’s terms. The agreement provided a separate regiment of Nepali soldiers in the Indian Army and made provision for pensions. However, over time the Gurkha regiments in the Indian Army comprise fewer Nepali. They are now 60 percent Nepali, while the rest are ethnic Nepalis from various parts of India. The Agnipath scheme erases the pretense of a distinct Gurkha regiment, as all recruits will be Agniveers. The Agnipath scheme has direct bearing on Nepal and Nepali recruits. Yet India hardly consulted the Nepali government while devising the plan. It only sought Nepal’s approval after it had announced the scheme.

New Delhi often touts its “neighborhood first” policy. But it is increasingly taking Nepal for granted.

Second, retired and aspiring Gurkha soldiers in Nepal have criticized the short-term of the service under the Angipath scheme. For a long time, recruitment in the British or Indian Army was seen in Nepal as an economically secure job with high social status. Agnipath’s terms neither provide a long-term job nor financial security. Indian Agniveers will have priority access to jobs in government and elsewhere after four years. The Nepali government is unlikely to be able to provide such preference. On the contrary, “retired” Agniveers may not be able to join some government services or security forces because of their age upon completing four years of service.

Third, there are lingering concerns about rehabilitating the young “retirees” (who will be 22-23 years) into society. It will be a highly-trained and energetic cohort, potentially struggling to find a job or pay in Nepal. Therefore, there are risks of some of them joining armed groups operating in Nepal. After the Maoist insurgency was over, Nepal struggled to integrate the Maoist guerillas into society.

In addition, some foreign countries could take advantage of the trained forces for covert activities within Nepal. It could embroil Nepal further into the geostrategic nightmare, which could spiral out of control.

Gurkhas have a proud tradition of serving bravely and loyally in the Indian Army. The military of the two countries shares a close bond. As a result, the Chief of the Indian Army is accorded the status of an honorary chief in the Nepali Army and vice versa. Gurkha soldiers are a vital component of this special relationship.

In this context, many expected Nepal and India to have frank discussions on the issue and reach an agreement during the five-day visit of Indian Army General Manoj Pande earlier this month. However, the issue made no headway during his visit. Pande did not raise the matter during his meeting with Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Deuba’s foreign adviser Arun Subdei said Nepal is engaging India at diplomatic and political levels on the issue.

Going forward, Nepal has three options.

Firstly, it could argue that the relevance of the tripartite agreement is over and hence, seek a new form of negotiation with India at the bilateral level and halt the recruitment until a deal is reached. Secondly, it could approve recruitment under the Agnipath scheme. Finally, it could permanently stop all forms of recruitment of Nepalis into foreign militaries.

There is a need for extensive consultation within parties and across parties regarding these options. There are differing views even within parties, let alone the ruling coalition. Therefore, Nepal needs an extensive national debate on the conditions under which Nepal should allow its nationals to be recruited into a foreign military, if at all.

This affects the long-term security of Nepal and Indo-Nepal relations, and Kathmandu should not rush to a decision. With elections due in two months, the current government is unlikely to decide one way or the other. But the onus will likely be on the current top leadership even after the election.

OP-EDs and Columns

Regulating Online Businesses

ANKUR Shrestha

The opinion piece originally appeared in the 2022 September Issue of New Business Age Magazine. Please read the original article here.

The shift towards online businesses has not been new in Nepal. The COVID-19 pandemic especially helped increase this movement while social media marketing had already been a common thing even before the pandemic. The pandemic has forced even traditional businesses to go online as they searched for new ways to reach consumers. Moreover, online businesses can be set up at a relatively low or no cost, and it is easier to market using social media. Therefore, online businesses became attractive to new entrepreneurs using social media to sell retail goods or services. Most of these new businesses, however, were not registered.

The problems in business registration are, however, not new. According to the latest available National Economic Census 2018, almost half the business establishments are unregistered. Two out of three businesses operated by a single person are not registered.

Then why are we seeing a large number of unregulated establishments, especially small-scale ones? There are various reasons. First, it is a strenuous task to register a business in Nepal. The World Bank ranks Nepal at 94th overall in its Doing Business Rankings in 2020, but 135th in starting a business and 151st in enforcing contracts. These are critical for small businesses.

Secondly, the government has not been able to offer substantial benefits (or impose costs) to warrant registering a business. Regular processes that need to be easy and fast, such as registering a business and paying taxes, come with cumbersome bureaucratic hassles without offering any particular benefits. Additionally, the government’s ability to impose contracts in case of any issues between contracting parties is slow. The people then see no reason to seek help from the government. On the flip side, most unregistered businesses do not face any consequences for not registering.

The third reason is that government regulation is slow to catch up, especially for online businesses. For example, when ride-sharing services like Tootle and Pathao started their services in Nepal, they had no exact regulations to operate under. Riders were arrested by the police as existing laws did not allow private vehicles to provide ride services. But, protests from consumers as well as service providers have forced the government to allow ride-sharing even in the absence of legal provision even though it has been more than five years since these services came into operation.

Even registered small businesses have been known to avoid paying taxes by showing a negative balance sheet. Customers have also contributed to the informal economy by not necessarily demanding VAT or PAN bills from the businesses. This has encouraged newly formed online businesses to operate without staying registered.

A glimpse of a genuinely free market economy in the country can, however, be seen. Albeit informal, the online market has been known to be relatively easier to purchase from, allowing consumers to compare prices across different sellers and choose one that suits them while paying relatively lower costs, all from the comfort of their homes. Sellers are compelled to sell better goods as setting up shops becomes easier through online mediums, and comments and ratings (reviews) in online mediums are viewed by a large number of potential future consumers. These act as incentives for sellers to improve customer service, sell better goods, try and create their niche, and perform better overall.

The government has remained a mute spectator, allowing sellers to provide goods cheaper to consumers while maximising profits. This type of informal arrangement is not covered by the government protection mechanisms for consumer safety. Of late, however, the government has tried to rectify this and drafted an E-commerce Bill intending to create, regulate, and facilitate online trade in Nepal. The first of its kind bill dedicated to e-commerce focuses on consumer protection. The question of allowing a truly free market without government intervention remains. The government needs to do more for both online businesses and consumers to remove the hassles in business registrations and taxes. While the E-commerce Bill is a step in the right direction, it has still not gone through the parliament.

The government’s slow and unresponsive nature, procedural challenges to reduce steps in business registration, and the high tax slabs will always hinder businesses from entering the formal fold of the economy. Questions of the role of government in only acting as an insurer of contracts rather than directly intervening in the market will also remain. Regardless of the arguments, the registration of businesses (online or otherwise) will help the government plan better and invest in easier access to resources for both sellers and consumers. 

OP-EDs and Columns

Trapped in migration and remittance

NISCHAL Dhungel, Non-Resident Fellow

The opinion piece originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 4 September 2022. Please read the original article here.

Nepal has faced tremendous hitches in the path of economic development. Keeping natural barriers (landlocked externally and challenging topography internally) aside, the nation has been undergoing a protracted era of political change over the past two decades, graduating from a monarchy to multiparty democracy, marred by armed war, ethnic unrest and frequent changes in power. Frequent changes in government, irrespective of a unitary or federal form of government, has directly hampered Nepal’s development path, compounded by poor policy decisions. Poor policy decisions have led to weak performance of the primary agricultural and industrial sectors, low public investment and capital accumulation, and low productivity growth.

Given this context, it is not surprising that foreign employment has become more pervasive, particularly in the years following Maoist conflict. The Department of Foreign Employment started issuing labour permits in the late 1990s. The number of labour permits issued peaked in 2013-14 at a high of 519,638. In 2020-21, the number of labour permits issued plunged to a 16-year low of 72,081 due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the ensuing restrictions on people’s freedom of movement. At present, formal overseas employment procedures have become cumbersome due to the bureaucracy that requires foreign employment agencies to produce authentic labour demand letters, get the demands attested from the Nepali embassies in target countries, and provide several other documents. Despite the cumbersome out-migration procedures, foreign employment has become a lucrative area to escape Nepal’s job market.

Remittance trap

Remittances in Nepal have surged at an unprecedented pace. Personal remittances received were less than 1 percent of GDP up until the late 1990s, lower than Bangladesh and India. This share dramatically increased during the first half of the 2000s, rising from 2 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2015. Following the pandemic, it was anticipated that Nepal would experience a sharp fall in remittance inflows, impacting imports, the balance of payments, foreign exchange reserves, consumption, savings, loans and interest rates. However, according to the data released for fiscal 2020-21, Nepal performed better in remittance inflows.

Given the extraordinary increase in remittances, they are probably the main driver of the improvement in living standards seen in Nepal, directly (households receiving remittances) and indirectly (increased labour income of those that remained). Research published by Nepal Rastra Bank showed that compared to households that do not get remittances, households that receive remittances have a 2.3 percent lower chance of falling into poverty. With every 10 percent increase in remittance inflows to households, the likelihood of those households falling into poverty lowers by approximately 1.1 percent.

Large-scale migration is a symptom of underlying, long-standing issues rather than a sign of strength. One of the world’s most extensive and dense anti-poverty initiatives is likely to be found in Nepal. Unfortunately, more resources go into the process of delivering benefits to “the poor” rather than achieving impact (making “the poor” rich). Economists Yurendra Basnett, Chandan Sapkota and Sameer Khatiwada have rightly pointed out that much effort is also put into process innovation and complexity (how to get the goodies to “the poor”) while neglecting the apparent reality that a great job with a high salary would go a long way in reducing poverty in one of the chapters of the book entitled Politics of Change.

Large-scale migration and the resulting remittances have facilitated the expansion of low-productivity services. Still, they have also contributed to the low competitiveness (via appreciation of the real exchange rate). As a result, this cycle intensifies already-existing problems that Nepal has faced for a while, further impeding its competitiveness and limiting its economic potential. Because of all these factors, Nepal, home to some of the most hardworking and adventurous people in the world, may remain in a high migration and remittance trap for years to come.

Domestic employment

The pandemic provided the government with a fantastic opportunity to learn a lesson from the existing policy gap to keep the people who had returned to help with the need for the nation’s development. It is a monumental task to switch from foreign employment to domestic employment. Approximately 500,000 young people enter the workforce each year, and 80 percent of them manage to find work abroad. Due to a lack of investment that may have helped produce output, Nepal is now entirely dependent on imports. Ironically, Nepal imports even agricultural items, even though 66 percent of the country’s population is employed in agriculture. Agriculture, which accounts for two-thirds of the workforce and one-third of GDP, has to undergo reforms to increase productivity, reduce poverty and free up labour for new sources of economic growth.

For Nepal, unleashing massive hydropower investments would be a game changer. It would not only result in considerable increases in productivity and new investments, but it also has the potential to raise wages dramatically, reverse migration and boost competition in downstream industries. According to the National Planning Commission and UNICEF report Demographic Changes of Nepal: Trends and Policy Implications, Nepal will have an ageing population by 2028 and an elderly population by 2054. Therefore, Nepal has a very limited window of opportunity to capitalise on the demographic window. It is necessary to invest in the skills of Nepali youth to fully realise the demographic dividend. For Nepal to continue on a more robust and sustainable growth path, more human capital must be put to productive use.

History also shows us that Nepal has implemented significant reforms in the past and is capable of doing so again. The broad-based reforms that Nepal implemented between 1986 and 1996 positively impacted the economy. The share of commerce in GDP and exports, as well as the share of manufacturing, virtually doubled, increasing the economy’s openness and diversification. The political shift to democratically elected administrations, which also gave the populace a new purpose, served as the foundation for these reforms. Today, they serve as a sobering reminder that Nepal can undergo significant and complex reforms. To escape the out-migration and remittance trap, a clear set of plans and policies to increase domestic employment should be the top priority of the federal, provincial and local governments. Without rethinking our development model, the country cannot prosper or graduate to a middle-income country.

OP-EDs and Columns

Nepal’s Ad Hoc Policies Toward China

– SANTOSH Sharma Poudel

The column originally appeared in The Diplomat on 25 August 2022. Please read the original article here.

A day after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi released a statement denouncing the visit. In the statement, Hou “highly appreciated” Nepal’s longstanding commitment to the One China principle.

In a subtle warning, she reminded Nepal that the One China principle was the foundation of Sino-Nepali relations and expressed hope that Kathmandu would continue to abide by the principle and support China’s legitimate interests. Hou also urged cooperation to “defend each other’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”

Then on August 5, Hou met with Nepali Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand. In the meeting, Khand reassured the Chinese envoy of Nepal’s position on the One China policy. Nepal would not allow any forces to use Nepali territory for “anti-China separatist activities,” he said.

This was followed by a hastily arranged trip of Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka to Beijing on August 9-11 at the invitation of China’s State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi. Both countries billed his trip as a return visit in the wake of Wang’s visit to Nepal in March.

Khadka’s visit also followed two high-level Chinese visits in recent months. However, the timing and both countries’ statements during and after the visit indicate that Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was a critical factor.

Nepal frequently reiterates its commitments in support of the One China policy and “not allowing Nepali land to be used against Chinese interests.” Prime ministers, foreign ministers, foreign secretaries, and others in leadership positions across time and political parties have restated these commitments to the Chinese. Nepali Foreign Policy 2077 also codifies the latter. As Hou stated, these are the foundations of China-Nepal relations.

There is little doubt that Nepal is sincerely committed to these principles and policies. Unfortunately, Nepal’s understanding of the implications of those principles is less clear-cut.

The implications of the One China principle are relatively easy to understand. Under the principle, Nepal (as do most countries worldwide) believes the People’s Republic of China to be the sole representative of China. In that context, Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China. Thus, Nepal has helped repress the political activities of the Tibetan refugees because China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist.

The implication of Nepal’s second commitment — i.e. not allowing its territory to be used for activities that could undermine Chinese interests — is more complex. The principle is sensible but requires an understanding and agreement between Nepal and China on what legitimate Chinese interests are.

Nepal’s lack of a shared national understanding allows for ad hoc decision-making. Also, not all of Nepal’s interests align perfectly with Chinese interests.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a $500-million grant program from the U.S. to build transport and energy infrastructure in Nepal, tested the principle. Beijing was fiercely opposed to Nepal ratifying the agreement and vocal in raising its concerns. Experts in Nepal were bitterly divided over whether Chinese security concerns regarding the grant were legitimate. Eventually, Nepal went ahead with the ratification, displeasing Beijing. Nepal has sought to reassure Beijing that its interests would not be harmed.

In July, Nepal wrote a letter to the U.S. government rescinding the State Partnership Program (SPP), an exchange program between an American state’s National Guard and a partner foreign country. Nepal and the Utah National Guard signed the SPP in 2019. In Beijing’s perception, the agreement is part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.

Despite American clarifications that the SPP is not a security or military alliance, Nepal decided to withdraw from the agreement to address Chinese sensitivity on the issue.

Nepal may have a rationale for both decisions, but they point to the ad hoc nature of understanding what constitutes actions against the interest of its neighbors. Such behavior opens the door for influence peddling or even bullying, especially given the meek nature of Nepali bureaucrats and political leaders vis-à-vis their Chinese counterparts.

Additionally, the need for Nepal to regurgitate those principles in every meeting with Chinese leaders indicates China’s insecurity over developments in its neighborhood. Beijing may also be justifiably concerned with Nepal’s ability to implement the principles, though it has praised Nepal’s efforts to limit the activities of Tibetan refugees.

Either way, it is high time that foreign and security policy stakeholders in Nepal reach a common minimum consensus. It would help Nepal engage China on an equal footing. At the same time, it will clarify what Nepali “red lines” are to Beijing. Without such understanding, Nepali policies will continue to be ad hoc and reactionary.

OP-EDs and Columns

अमेरिकामा ब्याजदर बढ्दा संसारभर किन पर्छ असर ?

– NISCHAL Dhungel, Non-Resident Fellow

The opinion piece originally appeared in the Naya Patrika Daily on 22 August 2022. Please read the original article here.

विश्वव्यापी अर्थतन्त्र अझै पनि कोभिड–१९ महामारीबाट गुज्रिरहेका वेला, उन्नत अर्थतन्त्रमा रहेका केन्द्रीय बैंकहरूले ब्याजदर बढाइरहेका छन्, जसले विश्वको बाँकी देशहरूमा ठूलो प्रभाव पार्नेछ । अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय मुद्रा कोषको (आइएमएफ)को ‘विश्व आर्थिक परिदृश्य’ प्रतिवेदनले विश्वव्यापी वृद्धि घट्ने अनुमान गरेको छ । विशेष गरी उदीयमान र विकासशील राष्ट्रहरूका लागि बढ्दो सामाजिक र आर्थिक जोखिमहरूको पूर्वानुमान पनि गरेको छ । रुस–युक्रेन द्वन्द्वले नीतिगत ट्रेड अफलाई सन्तुलनमा राख्न चुनौतीपूर्ण बनाएको छ ।

मुद्रास्फीतिसँग लड्न, आर्थिक सुधारको संरक्षण गर्न, अर्को कमजोरहरूलाई मद्दत गर्न र वित्तीय बफरहरू पुनस्र्थापित गर्न चुनौती छ । रुस–युक्रेन द्वन्द्व र आपूर्ति शृंखला अवरोधका कारण खाद्यान्न र इन्धनको मूल्यवृद्धि बढ्दै जाने देखिन्छ । विशेष गरी कम आय भएका देशहरूको कमजोर जनसंख्यालाई हानि पुर्‍याएको छ । हालै संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिकाको फेडरल रिजर्भले उपभोक्ता मूल्य ८.७ प्रतिशत बढेपछि मुद्रास्फीतिविरुद्धको लडाइँलाई तीव्र पारेको छ । १५ जुन २०२२ मा फेडले १९९४ पछिको उच्च ब्याजदर वृद्धिको घोषणा गर्‍यो । फेडले आगामी दिनमा ब्याजदर अझ बढाउने योजना बनाएको छ । अमेरिकामा ब्याजदर बढाएर मुद्रास्फीति घटाउने फेडरल रिजर्भको प्रयासले बाँकी विश्वलाई नोक्सान पुर्‍याउन सक्छ । अमेरिकाको बढ्दो ब्याजदर मध्यम र न्यून आय भएका देशहरूका लागि दुस्प्रभावी हुने थुप्रै कारण छन् । 

पुँजी पलायन
विकसित राष्ट्रहरूमा कम ब्याजदरको लामो युगपछि लगानीकर्ताले उच्च प्रतिफलको खोजीमा विकासशील र उदीयमान बजारहरूमा आफ्नो अधिक पुँजी केन्द्रित गर्न थाले । विकसित देशहरूमा ब्याजदरमा भएको तीव्र वृद्धिले अमेरिकामा ठूलो पुँजी प्रवाह र विकासोन्मुख देशहरूबाट निकासी बढ्नेछ । अमेरिकामा ब्याजदर बढ्दै जाँदा उदीयमान बजारहरूमा लगानी गर्ने लगानीकर्ताले उच्च प्रतिफलको फाइदा लिनका लागि अमेरिकामा पुँजी स्थानान्तरण गर्ने निर्णय गर्न सक्छन्, किनभने उनीहरूका लागि अमेरिकामा लगानी गर्नु बढी फाइदाजनक हुनेछ । 

ऋण संकट र मुद्रा अवमूल्यन
इतिहासले देखाउँछ कि राष्ट्रहरूको तीव्र आर्थिक विस्तारक्रममा ऋण बढ्ने गर्ने गर्दछ । विशेष गरी विकासोन्मुख देशहरूमा ‘ऋण पासो’ (डेब्ट ट्र्याप) तब हुन्छ, जब उत्पादकता र ऋण सन्तुलनमा रहँदैन । अमेरिकामा बढेको ब्याजदरका कारण विश्वव्यापी ब्याजदर बढ्न सक्छ । धनी देशहरूको केही केन्द्रीय बैंकले ब्याजदर बढाइसके । अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय मुद्रा कोष (आइएमएफ)का अनुसार ३८ उदीयमान अर्थतन्त्र खतरामा छन् वा हाल ऋण संकटमा छन् ।

सन् २०१९ र २०२१ को बीचमा महामारीले विकासशील अर्थतन्त्रहरूमा सार्वजनिक ऋणमा (जिडिपीको ५४ प्रतिशतबाट ६५ प्रतिशतसम्म तीव्र वृद्धि ल्यायो । कम्तीमा २५ विकासशील अर्थतन्त्रले आफ्नो सरकारी आयको २० प्रतिशतभन्दा बढी विदेशी सार्वजनिक ऋण सेवामा खर्च गर्छन् । आइएमएफले विकसित अर्थतन्त्रहरूमा ब्याजदर वृद्धिले उदीयमान बजार र विकासोन्मुख देशहरूका लागि बाह्य वित्तीय अवस्थालाई असर पार्न सक्ने उल्लेख गरेको छ ।

विकासोन्मुख देशहरूको मुद्रा अवमूल्यन, जसले क्रय शक्तिलाई कम गर्छ र अमेरिकी डलरजस्ता विदेशी मुद्राहरूमा ऋण तिर्न गाह्रो बनाउँछ । यस कारण बढ्दो ब्याजदर उदीयमान अर्थतन्त्रका लागि अर्को जोखिम हुन सक्छ । सन १९८० को प्रारम्भमा फेड ब्याजदर वृद्धिले संयुक्त राज्यमा दोहोरो अंकको मुद्रास्फीति कम ग¥यो, तर विश्वव्यापी रूपमा धेरै देशमा नराम्रो असर पर्‍यो । विशेष गरी ल्याटिन अमेरिकी देशहरूमा ऋण डिफल्ट भयो । बेरोजगारी र गरिबी बढ्यो र जिडिपीमा ठूलो गिरावट आयो । त्यो समयलाई ‘हराएको दशक’ (लस्ट डिकेड) भन्ने गरिन्छ, जहाँ ल्याटिन अमेरिकी देशहरू क्रमिक र असमान पुनरुत्थानमा गुज्रिरहेका थिए । अफ्रिकाका भारी ऋणी राष्ट्रहरूले ल्याटिन अमेरिकाजस्तै समान समस्या झेल्नुपर्‍यो ।

चीनको उदाहरण : ऋण दिगोपन र ऋण व्यवस्थापन
उच्च र बढ्दो ऋण–जिडिपी अनुपात सामान्यतया गैरजिम्मेवार उधारोपनाको संकेत हो । यस्तो गैरजिम्मेवार उधारो कटौती गर्नुपर्छ । बढ्दो ऋणलाई उच्च सरकारी तलब वा ठूला निवृत्तिभरणका लागि उपभोग गर्ने कि शिक्षा र पूर्वाधारजस्ता उत्पादनशीलता बढाउने सार्वजनिक वस्तुहरूमा लगानी गर्ने भन्ने कुरामा ध्यान दिनुपर्छ । ऋण–जिडिपी अनुपात बढ्दा दीर्घकालीन पूर्वाधारमा लगानी कति भयो र उत्पादनशीलता र प्रतिफल कति बढायो भन्ने कुरा महत्वपूर्ण हुन्छ । यस विषयमा श्रीलंका र अफ्रिकी मुलुकबाट पाठ सिक्न सकिन्छ ।

चीनले १९९७–१९९८ र २००८–२००९ मा वित्तीय संकटबाट बच्न विस्तारित वित्तीय र मौद्रिक नीतिको प्रयोग गरेर पूर्वाधार र सामाजिक खर्चहरूमा सार्वजनिक लगानीलाई प्रोत्साहन गरेको थियो । आफ्नो पुँजी खातालाई पूर्ण रूपमा उदारीकरण नगर्दा पनि चीनले राम्रो आर्थिक नतिजा हासिल गरेको छ । विगत ४७ वर्षमा चीनको आक्रामक वृद्धिलाई प्रभावकारी आर्थिक योजना र कार्यान्वयनलगायत स्थिर नीतिले बल दिएको छ ।

नेपालजस्तो देश विकासको प्रारम्भिक चरणमा छ र छोटो अवधिको राजस्व आर्जनलाई परियोजना छनोटका लागि प्राथमिकता दिनुपर्दछ । चीनजस्ता धेरै देशले विकेन्द्रीकृत वित्तीय प्रणाली अपनाएका छन्, जसले वित्तीय स्थायित्वको विश्लेषणलाई जटिल बनाउँछ । चीनमा धेरैजसो सार्वजनिक सामाजिक खर्च स्थानीय सरकारहरूमा निहित हुन्छ, जबकि राजस्व विनियोजन केन्द्र सरकारले नियन्त्रण गर्छ । स्थानीय सरकारहरूले आफ्नो आवश्यकता पूरा गर्न ऋणपत्र जारी गर्छन् र स्थानीय सरकारले आफ्नो वित्तीय प्रणाली बुझ्न महत्वपूर्ण छ । 

अर्थतन्त्रको आकार र संरचनामा धेरै फरक भए पनि नेपाल र श्रीलंकाजस्ता देशले चीनको विकास अनुभवबाट फाइदा लिन सक्छन् । चीनको विकेन्द्रीकृत आर्थिक विकासले स्थानीय सरकार र वित्तीय संस्थाहरूलाई संघीय सरकारभन्दा बढी महत्व दिन्छ, जसले गर्दा लगानी र वित्तीय निर्णय गर्न मद्दत हुन्छ । दीर्घकालीन विकास लक्ष्य हासिल गर्न स्थानीय विकास रणनीति र नीतिहरू राष्ट्रिय प्राथमिकतासँग मिल्नुपर्छ । तर, स्थानीय आर्थिक कार्यसम्पादनका लागि स्थानीय निकायलाई जवाफदेही बनाउनुपर्छ । 

नेपालको सन्दर्भ 
नेपाल एउटा यस्तो राष्ट्र हो, जसलाई संरचनात्मक परिवर्तनको नितान्त आवश्यकता छ । समस्या मौलिक भएकाले संरचनात्मक सुधार नै छोटो र दीर्घकालीन जवाफ खोज्ने एक मात्र उपाय हो । भुक्तानी सन्तुलन कायम गरी बाह्य क्षेत्रमाथिको दबाब कम गर्न ऋण विस्तार र क्षेत्रगत वितरणको व्यवस्थापन, अत्यधिक आयात घटाउने र औपचारिक माध्यमबाट रेमिट्यान्स आप्रवाहमा सुधार गर्न आवश्यक छ । मौद्रिक नीतिले बैंकिङ र निजी क्षेत्रहरूलाई वर्तमान वातावरणमा ऋण प्रयोग गर्दा बढी सावधानी र जवाफदेहिता अपनाउन निर्देशन दिनुपर्छ । तीन दशकसम्म उच्च कर्जा वृद्धि भए पनि आर्थिक वृद्धिदर ४.४ प्रतिशत मात्रै रह्यो । यसले हाम्रो कर्जा वृद्धि नीतिले आर्थिक वृद्धिमा सकारात्मक प्रभाव पार्न नसकेको देखाउँछ । आगामी दशकमा आर्थिक वृद्धिलाई प्रत्यक्ष रूपमा सहयोग गर्ने क्षेत्रमा ऋण प्रवाह केन्द्रित हुनुपर्छ । कर्जाको वृद्धि पनि निक्षेप वृद्धिसँग मिल्दो हुनुपर्छ ।

आयात प्रतिस्थापनको सन्दर्भमा निजी क्षेत्रले जिम्मेवार र सक्रियताका साथ काम गर्नुपर्छ, आयातको सट्टा स्वदेशी उत्पादन वृद्धि गर्नुपर्छ । निजी र बैंकिङ क्षेत्रले घरेलु उत्पादन बढाउन सहयोगी सरकारका नीतिहरूसँग मिलेर काम गर्नुपर्छ । आयात र व्यापारमुखी अर्थतन्त्रलाई उत्पादक अर्थतन्त्रमा परिणत गर्ने, अर्थतन्त्रलाई विश्वव्यापी मूल्य शृंखलामा जोड्ने, घरेलु कच्चा पदार्थमा आधारित औद्योगीकरणलाई प्रोत्साहन गर्ने, खुला सिमानाका कारण लामो समयदेखि चलिरहेको आर्थिक घाटा कम गर्ने केही दीर्घकालीन उपाय हुन् ।

हालको कोभिड प्रकोपको सामना गर्न र कठिन परिस्थितिमा विकासका आवश्यकता पूरा गर्न केही नीतिगत विकल्प छन् । संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघको व्यापार र विकास सम्मेलनले सार्वभौम ऋणको पुनर्संरचनाका लागि बहुपक्षीय कानुनी ढाँचाका लागि वकालत गरेको छ, जसले निष्पक्ष र व्यवस्थित ऋण संकट समाधान ल्याउनेछ, जसले सार्वजनिक र निजी ऋणदाता दुवैलाई समावेश गर्दछ । आइएमएफले थप ऋण जारी गर्न सक्छ । आइएमएफ, विश्व बैंक समूह र क्षेत्रीय वित्तीय व्यवस्था (आरएफएएस)लाई थप आपत्कालीन तरलता ऋण जारी र वितरणलाई छिटो गर्न सकिन्छ । पहिले नै सम्पन्न सार्वजनिक सम्पत्ति परियोजनाहरूमा आधारित नवीन वित्त पोषण र पुनर्वित्त योजनाहरू डिजाइन गर्ने अर्को उपाय हुन्छ, जसलाई ‘सम्पत्ति–आधारित पुनर्वित्त’ पनि भनिन्छ । विश्वव्यापी ऋण–राहत संयन्त्र, जसले संघर्षरत राष्ट्रहरूमा वित्तीय संकट रोक्न सक्छ र थप विवेकपूर्ण उधारो र ऋणका लागि दिशानिर्देश आवश्यक हुन्छ ।

अन्त्यमा, उन्नत देशहरूको ब्याजदर वृद्धिले न्यून आय भएका देशहरूलाई प्रत्यक्ष वा अप्रत्यक्ष रूपमा असर गर्छ । कम आय भएका देशलाई संरचनात्मक सुधारको आवश्यकता छ, जुन आफ्नो ऋण व्यवस्थापन गर्न छोटो र दीर्घकालीन समाधान खोज्न एकदम महत्वपूर्ण छ ।

OP-EDs and Columns

Will Reform of Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority Ever Take Off?

SANTOSH SHARMA Poudel

The column originally appeared in The Diplomat on 9 August 2022. Please read the original article here.

On August 3, the U.N. aviation watchdog, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), formally asked the Nepali government to split the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) into two separate entities — a service provider and a regulator. Nepal needed the restructuring to ensure a “clear separation of authority between service providers, operators and the regulatory authority” in order to improve air safety, ICAO said.

Back in 2009, during a safety audit by ICAO, Nepal had committed to work on legislation to split CAAN. However, 13 years later the proposed legislation remains in limbo.

Nepal has a poor aviation safety record. According to the Aviation Safety database, there have been 27 plane crashes in Nepal over the past three decades, 20 of them over the last 10 years. In May 2022, a Tara Air plane crashed in the mountainous Mustang district of Nepal, killing all 22 passengers and crew members, including six foreigners.

The European Commission (EC) imposed a blanket ban on Nepali airlines entering European airspace in 2013 after eight British nationals were killed in a Sita Air plane crash in 2012.

The rugged mountain terrain, a lack of investment in new planes, and poor infrastructure have contributed to dangerous air travel in Nepal. However, Nepal’s aviation governing structure shares some blame too.

CAAN is both the service provider and regulator in Nepal. That has engendered a conflict of interest, especially when it comes to safety regulations.

This prompted the EC to insist on CAAN splitting into two separate bodies before it considers lifting the ban on Nepali airlines. EU Ambassador Nona Deprez unequivocally stated that passing the bills to split CAAN is a “prerequisite” for Nepali airlines to be removed from the “air safety list.”

Nepali policymakers recognize the need to split CAAN. Since 2007, successive governments have put forward plans to end the dual functioning of the aviation regulator. Each government has expressed a commitment in bilateral (with the EU) and multilateral forums to split CAAN and urged the EC to revoke the ban. A subcommittee of the parliamentary International Relations Committee led by former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal even directed the government to split CAAN, saying it was mandatory.

Besides improving safety, restructuring CAAN has other tangible benefits for Nepal and Nepali aviation.

First, it will likely lead to the EC removing Nepal from its “air safety list,” opening European skies to Nepali airlines. It would boost revenue for Nepal’s struggling national carrier, Nepal Airlines. Nepal Airlines could not carry out chartered flights to the EU during COVID-19 rescue missions. As a result, the airline lost a big chunk of potential revenue, besides affecting the government’s ability to rescue Nepalis stranded in European countries during the pandemic.

Second, a restructuring would provide a shot in the arm to Nepal’s tourism industry. Around 15-20 percent of tourist arrivals to Nepal are from EU member countries. In 2019, almost a quarter of a million tourists from the EU visited Nepal. Nepal has announced a “Visit Nepal decade, 2023-2033” to revive the tourism sector. Without safe air services, the primary mode of transport for inbound tourists, the tourism decade cannot be successful. Nepal’s poor air safety record and the EU’s ban dissuaded many potential tourists from visiting Nepal. That would change if Nepal sets in motion the necessary changes to make flights safe.

Finally, the issue provides a litmus test of Nepali leaders’ commitment and delivery. Every government since 2007 has committed to and “prioritized” CAAN’s restructuring, but none have delivered.

On March 1 this year, the parliament secretariat included two aviation bills, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal Bill and the Air Service Authority of Nepal Bill, on the agenda for the meeting of the House of Representatives scheduled for the following day. However, then-Minister for Civil Aviation Prem Bahadur Ale did a volte-face and requested the parliament secretariat to hold back the bills. Some employees of the aviation regulator were opposed to the planned restructuring, he claimed.

The bills have not made any headway in the House of Representatives since, although the National Assembly, Nepal’s upper house, passed the bills unanimously.

On July 31, Jeevan Ram Shrestha, who succeeded Ale as aviation minister, said that Nepal would not immediately accept the EC’s condition and that CAAN would be restructured “according to need and at the appropriate time.”

Analysts attribute the lack of progress in passing the bills to the vested interest of some office holders and foreign airline operators. The existing system allows CAAN’s director-general to issue tenders and oversee compliance while issuing regulations governing the issues of licenses to airlines and crews. These officials would not want to give up this power.

Meanwhile, other international airlines have gained market share and revenue at the expense of Nepali airlines. Ale and Shrestha’s dilly-dallying shows the deep reach of such vested interests.

Going forward, the path for the government could not have been more straightforward. Yet vested interests have reigned over the common sense measure for 15 years. Shrestha’s statement provides little hope of a change to the status quo.

OP-EDs and Columns

Connectivity via sub-regional cooperation

NISCHAL Dhungel, Non-Resident Fellow

The column originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 4 August 2022. Read the original article here.

The geostrategic positioning of Nepal offers a unique opportunity to participate in numerous regional projects. Before engaging in such projects, it is essential to understand where our strengths lie concerning our connectivity, and the reasons holding back our connectivity with South Asian countries. In this regard, improving connectivity through sub-regional cooperation such as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN MVA) plays a crucial role in pushing forward social and economic development among these South Asian countries.

Following the failure of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to reach a consensus on a regional motor vehicle accord at the Kathmandu Summit in 2014, primarily due to resistance from Pakistan, the BBIN MVA connectivity project was proposed. The BBIN MVA seeks to build a road-based economic corridor linking Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Bhutan has not ratified the agreement but encouraged the other three to approve and engage in the pact. The BBIN MVA aims to promote the smooth movement of passengers, personal and vehicular cargo traffic within and between the BBIN countries.

Intraregional trade

With only 5 percent of the total trade in the region, intraregional trade in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Significant challenges lie before implementing massive connectivity projects like the BBIN MVA. Traders usually have to visit more than 10 agencies for documentation clearances. The lack of accredited laboratories to certify export products often delays shipments by weeks. The lengthy border hold-ups add to the enormous trade costs among BBIN member nations. Regarding infrastructure gaps, congested borders, long and diversionary transport routes, and low quality roads increase trade cost and transit time which directly hampers the transport of goods and services. Besides these challenges, the development of inter-modal transhipment facilities, modern warehouse capacities, and gender-friendly infrastructure and trade and transit-related offices should be considered.

As Nepal is a landlocked mountainous nation with poor transportation infrastructure, improving road and railway connectivity is essential for the smooth flow of goods and services. Simplifying paperwork, advancing risk management practices to reduce physical checks, facilitating cross-border transit and modernising sanitary and phytosanitary measures will help streamline trade processes. To enable importers and exporters to submit their paperwork electronically, the World Bank assists Bangladesh and Nepal in building single electronic gateways. These National Single Windows which are anticipated to decrease clearing times require strong implementation support. Upgradation of the roads connecting integrated check posts and inland container depots will help smoothen large volumes of cross-border trade.

Hence, modernising infrastructure and integrated border points, developing and upgrading cross-border and internal roads, and increasing multi-modal transport networks, including road and railways, helps to bridge the infrastructure gaps. Also, local concepts such as border “haat” practised at the India-Bangladesh and India-Myanmar border points should be adopted on the India-Nepal border to provide economic opportunities to small entrepreneurs and women traders.

Looking at the composition of transport connectivity in Nepal, 90 percent of goods and passenger transport services take place via road, 8 percent by air and 2 percent by rail, rope and others. Nepal should prioritise high-quality road infrastructure to increase connectivity in the short term. At present, the upgradation of the east-west highway, which connects significant land ports (Birgunj, Biratnagar and Bhairahawa) is crucial for transport connectivity. High quality road infrastructure could be initially expensive. However, investing in such massive projects is worthwhile in the long term. Several studies in high-, middle- and low-income countries show a positive relationship between transport infrastructure and economic development. Therefore, transport infrastructure becomes extremely important as it is the primary driver of economic growth. Nepal can tap into two huge markets—China and India—if she can develop advanced road and railway systems.

South and Southeast Asia

The Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) in Southeast Asia and the BBIN MVA in South Asia operate under a similar model (project-based). The GMS comprises six countries and is regarded as a successful development story. The GMS countries share the Mekong River in implementing high priority projects to facilitate doing business, accessing markets and engaging in other activities that comprehensively support trade and development in addition to developing infrastructure. Similarly, the BBIN countries can follow in the footsteps of the GMS by leveraging their economic corridors and concentrating on priority sectors to foster regional harmony and integration by cementing strong ties between their peoples.

A recent World Bank report entitled Deepening Linkages between South Asia and Southeast Asia examines new strategies for reviving trade and economic ties between the two regions, concentrating on sectors including digital systems, environmental goods and services. The gross domestic product (GDP) gains would be significant, amounting to about 17.6 percent for South Asia and 15.7 percent for Southeast Asia. Nepal will benefit from such regional South Asia and Southeast Asia cooperation by engaging in high priority projects.

Nepal confronts significant economic development obstacles due to electricity supply. Recently, there has been some positive developments. Nepal and Bangladesh intend to hold meetings about bilateral power trade and Bangladeshi investment in Nepal’s hydropower industry. The positive side of the bilateral power trade is that Nepal can buy power from Bangladesh during the winter and sell its power dominance during the rainy season. This increases the prospect of improving energy trade not only with India but also with Bangladesh. In this regard, The Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) Nepal Compact ushers in a new era in United States-Nepal Partnership, which aims to improve road quality, increase the availability and reliability of electricity, and facilitate cross-border electricity trade between Nepal and India.

The MCC Nepal Compact and bilateral power trade with Bangladesh will be an opportunity for Nepal to improve its connectivity and engage in power trade with India and Bangladesh respectively. Nepal can also benefit from new railway connectivity with another neighbouring country China. The feasibility study for the proposed Kerung-Kathmandu railway project would significantly boost the development of a “cross-Himalayan connectivity network” using transportation, ports for trade, roads and telecommunication. While implementing projects like the BBIN MVA, Nepal should be free from political ties and act in the country’s best interests. Swift implementation of high priority connectivity projects should be first on the agenda, bringing considerable macro economic benefits not limited to generating thousands of jobs for the Nepali people.